Wednesday, April 17, 2024

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Historic Gun Hill treasures

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GUN HILL in St George is one of the many historic tourist attractions located in Barbados. The view is said to be one of the best of the southern part of the island.

Originally named Briggs Hill after one of its early landowners, it was one of the four hills selected for placing guns in 1697, and again in 1747, in case of an invasion (Warren Alleyne, DAILY NATION, Thursday, December 30, 1982, Page 5). This is what most likely led to the name which it has today.

In the 19th century, the hill, along with most of the land which constitutes Gun Hill, was owned by James Cragg Kellman. During the state of martial law in 1816, a military settlement erected barracks on 30 acres of the property. In 1817, the government decided to make it an official military outpost and offered Kellman £3 000 for most of the land and other buildings.

Kellman thought that was too little but later decided to sell ten acres. The land was sold at £20 per acre and £800 were given for compensation of losses and inconveniences he would have suffered, due to the military occupying his land.

In 1818, the government learnt that Thomas Edgehill owned another ten acres of the land and that it could be converted into an officer’s quarters. The land was sold on May 6 for £475. The Government to this day owns 20 acres of the land which makes up Gun Hill.

Signal Station

The Gun Hill Signal Station was erected around 1818 as one of six such stations around the island. Edward A. Stoute gives a somewhat different idea of when he believes the station was built.

“I have not yet discovered exactly when the Gun Hill station was erected, but it was soon after the riots of 1816; in fact, in August of the same year, when Sir James Leith, the then Governor, recommended the establishment of military posts at Gun Hill and Moncrieffe Point to ensure the tranquility of the island.” (Edward A. Stoute: 1989: 59)  

The signal station is located on the highest point of Gun Hill, approximately 700 feet above sea level. This was the location where information or important matters were passed on by the British soldiers stationed there. “The signal stations were used very often to relay information but following the introduction of the telephone in Barbados in 1883, there was a rapid decline in the use of stations and all of them were later demolished, with the exception of the ones at Gun Hill and Cotton Tower.” (Barbados Advocate Sunday Splash: 1989: 6)

Military influence

Gun Hill was also used as a convalescent camp for soldiers, their wives and children. In the older days it was not known that yellow fever was carried by a mosquito. “When a yellow fever epidemic killed almost half of the troops who were routinely stationed at the Garrison Savannah, the British were forced to find a place to recuperate and they chose the station.” (Barbados Advocate Parish Publication – St. George: 1998: 4)

It was just later they realised that the new military post at Gun Hill was free of the virus. “On September 23, 1862, the Barbados Globe recorded that due to an outbreak of yellow fever at St Anne’s Garrison, some 900 officers and men of the 21st Regiment were removed from the Garrison to camp at Gun Hill.” (Edward A. Stoute: 1989: 59)

Due to the camp being heavily occupied, some of the other land was rented to accommodate more of the officers stationed here. Although they did this, soldiers still became ill and as stated in the Barbados Chronicle of September 18, it was decided that medical attention had to be given to the poor or those less fortunate to pay for it themselves.

“On September 21 it was recorded that with the removal to Gun Hill of the 21st Regiment, which had suffered badly by having the most cases of yellow fever, it was assumed that the Garrison might be free of the disease.” (Edward A. Stoute: 1989: 59) This was not the case. They decided to move the 1st WI Regiment to the quarters vacated by the 21st Regiment and most of the officers were attacked by yellow fever. Six were said to have died. Because Gun Hill was still over-occupied, they were then moved to Dayrells Plantation.

The Lion

The lion, which sits atop of the southern slopes of the hill at Gun Hill, is approximately seven feet to the top of its head. It was carved from coral stone by Captain Henry Wilkinson, along with four military labourers in 1868.

There is an inscription at the base of the lion which is written in Latin. It was derived from a passage in the Bible – Psalm 72:8 – “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea and from river unto the end of the earth”. 

In 1981, due to the decline of the signal stations islandwide, the Barbados National Trust restored the lion. It also carried out most of the restoration to the whole station.

• Stefan Stoute is a student in the Division of FineArts of the Barbados Community College.

 

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